Polish Jewish Heritage Foundation
has been a key contributor to the process of
" building bridges and mending fences with Poland ".
This Monday past, on the 20th of April 2009,
a ceremony was held in his honour
at the Polish Consulate in Toronto.
Peter Jassem received
the President of the Republic of Poland's
" Krzyz Kawalerski Orderu Zaslugi RP "
from Konsul General Marek Ciesielczuk.
The Konsul General & Konsul Andrzej Krezel
offered their customary Polish warmth & hospitality
to Peter's family & friends.
Peter instinctively " wins hearts & minds "
through reconciling differences,
reaching understandings & eventually, acceptance -
it was Peter who advised me of the
existence of the Kresy-Syberia group,
providing me with an entry into the world
& the life my mother had lost...
----- Original Message -----
From: Lucyna Artymiuk
To: com, Kresy-Siberia@yahoogroups.
Sent: Saturday, April 18, 2009 4:04 AM
Subject: [Kresy-Siberia] Building bridges and mending fences with Poland
Building bridges and mending fences with Poland
Lynda Kraar | Op-Ed |
Published: 17 April 2009
Although it was not been widely publicized outside Poland, a deadline has
quietly passed for the Polish government's offer of compensation for
property left outside its present borders in connection with World War II.
This is not related to restitution for property confiscated in Poland by the
German Nazi and post-war Communist regimes. Rather, it is compensation
offered for property left behind when Poland's borders were shifted west
after the war. Poland's eastern territories were taken over by the Soviet
Union in exchange for new western territories taken from a vanquished
Germany. I was part of a team that processed approximately 250 applications
and I had the opportunity to talk to many elderly survivors - mainly
Catholic - about their wartime experiences.
This little-known fact presents an opportunity for the Jewish community to
build bridges and mend fences with the Polish community, which also finds
itself in exile throughout the world, and frequently in close proximity to
Eastern European Jewish neighborhoods. It is estimated that 1.7 million
Poles were deported to Siberia. Among them were hundreds of thousands of
Polish Jews, especially refugees from Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland, who
were deported eastward by the Soviets in 1940-41. That we know from
documentation that is widely and popularly available. What is less known is
that tens of thousands of Polish allied soldiers and refugees passed through
British-occupied Palestine during 1941-46, including 6,000 Jewish soldiers
in the Polish Army - many of whom stayed behind to help create and defend
Israel, including future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Nearly 1,000
Jewish orphans (the "Tehran children") also came to Israel in this process.
The stories that are emerging from those who lived in the eastern
borderlands of Poland, mostly Catholic children in September of 1939, sound
remarkably like those of the Jewish children whose testimonies many of us
heard in Jewish schools when we were growing up.
Romuald Lipinski was a 14-year-old schoolboy when Nazi soldiers pounded on
his door in the middle of the night, giving his family 10 minutes to clear
out toward the Soviet border, never to return to their home. Like so many
boys, Lipinski would join the army-in-exile of Gen. Wladyslaw Anders in
Siberia, and would eventually be part of the Polish army, which, together
with the British Army, fought decisively in the Battle of Monte Cassino. His
regiment was instrumental in driving the Nazis out of Italy - a victory for
which Lipinski would be decorated as a hero.
"It broke our hearts when our land was lost to the Soviets - we felt totally
betrayed by our own allies. We helped win the war against Hitler but lost
our homeland to Stalin. But even though we never could return home after the
war, we never forgot our Polish homeland," says Lipinksi.
A deportation survivor and resident of Northport, Fla., Marie Gaffney
recalls, "The Soviet troopers came with guns drawn in the dead of night and
dragged us out into minus-40-degree [Fahrenheit] temperatures, with only a
few small bundles of our belongings in my father's hands and me in my
mother's arms. They deported us to harsh labor camps in Siberia and seized
all our property. Our homes are gone forever, but at least this is a
symbolic recognition of the injustice we suffered."
My own mother, who was the same age as Romuald Lipinksi at the time, fled to
Siberia with her brother in the days before the Lodz Ghetto was established
in the winter of 1939. They were arrested and thrown into the Soviet jails -
the infamous gulags - where my mother's brother died and was buried in a
potter's field. Mom never realized she was a "survivor" because she did not
experience the Nazi concentration camps. It was only after the war, when Mom
came to Toronto and became a speaker for the Toronto Holocaust Center, that
she realized how significant her little-known story was. Only then did she
feel clear of the guilt that she had felt her entire life over surviving
when her older brother, whom she had so admired and had depended upon, died.
Only then did she realize that she, too, was a survivor.
It is up to our generation to create the dialogue with the people with whom
we coexisted for nearly 1,000 years. We share a history, geography, and
culture. Now that we Anglo-Polish Jews (who ended up in the UK, USA/Canada,
and Australia/New Zealand) and Kresy Poles (who come from the Kresy region
of Poland - the eastern borderlands) have been exiled from our Polish home,
we have a common "new" language and a perspective. We share the feeling that
the clock is ticking and soon our eyewitnesses will be gone. We know that
the time is now for the story that needs to be part of the complicated
historical account of World War II.
Jews have always been "Na'aseh v'Nishmah" people (from the biblical
reference at Mount Sinai: "We shall obey and we shall hear"). Merely knowing
that the story is complicated is not enough. The time has come, before our
children become too old to learn from us, for us to shape the future and
help others who have not been officially recognized for their loss and
Anyone can be an activist. Join a Polish-Jewish dialogue group, or start
one. Examine the intrigue, twists, and turns that have been the trademark of
relations between neighbors by reading a book like "Between the Pages" by
Erin Einhorn, and seeing movies like Andrze Wajda's "Katyn," which was part
of the Wajda retrospective presented by Lincoln Center. (See page 31.) It
will be widely distributed sometime soon. A British-made documentary, "A
Forgotten Odyssey," is another excellent source of information.
While many Jews belong to genealogy groups such as JewishGen.org, they may
not know that they can also join the Kresy Siberia Group online, an
international special-interest group of more than 750 survivors of the
Soviet persecutions and their second- and third-generation descendants. Its
objectives are to research, remember, and recognize the persecution of
Polish citizens of all ethnic and religious backgrounds by the Soviet Union
during World War II. Many volunteers on the list are helpful in translating
Polish and Russian documents.
In short, it is not enough for us to visit the death camps and continue to
teach our children the horrible fate suffered by our people there. We must
also remember the country that was so beloved by the generations before us.
It is so much harder to build the bridge than to cut ties. It is our turn to
build a better tomorrow.
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